Well, so here I was in London Heathrow, with a layover that just got extended by an hour, and no reason for it. I took some time to collect my thoughts & really just calm down. It wasn’t so bad - just an hour of delay. However the nagging voice in my head kept saying there were more delays (and perhaps even a cancellation) on the cards. I decided to check the British Airways app: lo & behold - half were delayed, half were cancelled, NYC was still recovering. The reasoning for my flight to be delayed: late arrival of incoming aircraft. I was atleast confident that the flight will go at this point.
A quick backstory to this flight (as well) - but this time it was after booking the tickets did I realize that BA173 was downguaged to a B777-200ER. In fact back then (Jan ’18) British Airways operated 3 pw B747 and 4pw B777 on this flight. The options were simple: pay $175 to change to a B747 flight to maintain a perfect 747 streak with BA, or just stick to the B777 because honestly what’s wrong with a 3-3-3 config 777 for a 7 hour flight. I went for the latter, and soon enough the B747 was back on for my day of travel. Yay me! Web check in was done nice & easy at home in CCU - seat 50A for this flight.
Back to the day of - after a quick freshen up (and by quick I mean I took my time, of course), I slowly headed towards the departure screens. This is where I started to realize I wasn’t a fan of how LHR assigned gates. ‘Go to A gates’ it said - alongside a confirmation of the 1hr delay. Some other passenger was struggling with where to go where this British Airways employee came around and helped them out. On seeing my clueless face trying to figure things out, she came around and asked me where I was headed to. ‘New York JFK’ I said.
‘Oh… have you seen the news? Do you know that most flights to New York are cancelled?’ Before I could even mention that I was aware of it, she rather unhelpfully and condescendingly asked me to head over to Concourse A, the rebooking & cancellation desk. That was if anything, quite unhelpful. I thanked her for…whatever it is that was. Onwards and forward to the underground train, I suppose. A new cloud of uncertainty lay over my head: why did I listen to someone who was quite clueless, rather believe what the app & flight information displays said?
I killed an hour before heading down to the train: a huge information board showing places where all the flights were heading out: 1120 hours to New Delhi, 1120 hours to New York JFK. Hah, how about that for a coincidence!
A NERVOUS LAYOVER…
Collecting my thoughts and keeping calm I reached concourse A. And this bustling concourse is what everyone refers to when talking about LHR being the busiest in the world. People flocking from left to right, up and down. Shops, security, customer care centers, all bustling. It was a busy time. All of a sudden my visit to LHR was no longer the dream come true after a seamless & not busy transfer on the way to.
I found the rather long rebooking line: most people were just on missed connections, and not too many heading to the USA East Coast. Some tried to get their issues fixed on the kiosks, but it looked like the robots could not get back at us after all, humans lived to fight another day. I flagged a staff member down and they confirmed with me that staying in line was not the best idea, and that I should proceed to Conocurse A as planned. Off through transit security which was so much more busy compared to the small checkpoints between concourses. With every FIDs I walked by I hoped to see what gate it would be: go to A gates, go to A gates, go to A gates they all said. I was hoping the delay wouldn’t be any longer, either. It was a long & uncomfortable wait.
Walking around this bustling concourse I decided to head to Wagamma - a restaurant that I have read & heard about a lot. I had a view of activity going on at Concourse A - but these were mostly small Airbuses, all BA, bar one Iberia. Found an old couple to talk to - they too were heading towards the mess of the East Coast, but to Philadelphia. This got my mind off things. I found service to be a little slow, and they messed up my order, while the food also felt to be rather mediocre. Oh well.
It was a solid 45 minutes in there, I appreciated Heathrow’s fast working free wifi, and timely updates of flights. ‘Go to B gates’ it said for BA173 - yes, the cloud of uncertainty started to clear! Headed towards the Concourse B - but with a quick stop at the W&H Smith. The employee over there was a little on the rude side accusing me of signature fraud…seriously?! lol.
Bit of a walk to the people mover station downstairs, but it wasn’t too bad - killing time was the name of the game, I guess!
At concourse B I was wondering which plane’d take me: hopefully not G-CIVS for the sake of a repeat registration. If anything, I was glad to see how empty Concourse B was compared to Concourse A: no longer a people maze to maneuver through. Headed towards Gate B46 - not before a bathroom break as boarding was going to be soon enough.
THE FIRST ALLIANCE LOGO PLANE!
There she was, yet another British Airways Boeing 747-400. However, this was a special one for me: my first airplane with the alliance colors, and G-CIVI happened to be one of 8 747s in BA’s fleet with the aircraft bearing these large oneworld titles as well.
Curious as ever, I looked at where this plane came in from, and why was it late. But of course, it was BA116 from New York JFK - and it had arrived at 0930 hours, meaning that British Airways needed 3 hours to turn this plane around. I found this interesting because I have seen some middle eastern airline with 150+ A380s turn the whale around in 2 hours. Wonder what’s up here.
Anyway, I found a place to sit by the big window - the planes in this concourse are bigger jets: mostly Boeings, and the A380s in the background. It was a matter of time before boarding started and I was hoping it’d get going sooner than later.
I guess I was not the only angsty one, because people lined up for boarding anyway, oh well. Unsurprisingly this was a full flight. With the 2 flights prior to BA173 cancelled, rebooking would be a headache for all, when or where will they end up? I was glad I stuck to my guns with BA173, rather than a premature change because this flight alternates with a 777-200ER (as mentioned above).
Bland boarding pass:
Not too long later the ground staff took the matter in their hands: mentioning that it would be a little bit before boarding starts because the crew just got on and going about the safety checks, while the plane arrived late because of de-icing taking long at JFK. Ah, understandable - de-icing a jumbo jet after half the airport freezing over. Still didn’t explain the long turnaround, but whatever.
Boarding was eventually called not too long later, I joined the line for the ID check & eventually on to the plane. It was a bittersweet feeling - on the way to New York didn’t feel as uncertain, but was this going to be my last ever 747 flight? Anyway, I surprised to see newspapers being offered at the jet bridge, given that BA are in the midst of all these cost cutting moves.
Onboard at 1158 hours, 32 minutes before the rescheduled departure time, there was the flight attendant doing their job guiding passengers down the respective aisle, nothing spectacular. Stairway to heaven…?
Boarding happened pretty quickly as every single one of the passengers onboard were raring to go. There was a long, comprehensive announcement by the cockpit crew, first officer to be specific. We were to be in the air for a decent 7hr15min, in addition to it being a smooth flight, making up as much of the delay as possible, et al.
View from 50A
Pushed back at 1231 hours, 16 minutes after the rescheduled departure time. Not bad at all - we were on our way, and I was so relieved. The four Rolls Royce Trent RB211s were brought in to life as the funny safety video finally played - these did not work on G-CIVT and G-CIVA respectively.
A busy taxi to Runway 09R. Some of the highlights included (obviously) the British Airways Boeing 747s, some other TATL departures like Delta’s B767-300ER to Atlanta, United 767-300ER to EWR, Virgin Atlantic A340-600 to JFK…
Also took me a long time to process a Bombardier Q400 belonging to AirBerlin depart….wait, didn’t stop operations in 2017? What happened here?!
And a lovely amazing beautiful SriLankan Airlines A330-300 heading all the way to my former home in Colombo. Oh who knows - what if it was indeed my high school batch mate’s father flying this one?!
More TATL flights
Anyway, after a lot of stops and goes we finally lined up with Runway 09R at 1256 hours, a total delay of 1hr36min before eventually rolling down the 3.9km Runway, passing by the several terminals (BA T5, *A Queen’s T2), before giving me a pretty nice view of the Concorde G-BOAB preserved with some (interestingly) South African A330s for mx.
'Speedbird 173 heavy, wind 080 at 5, cleared for take off Runway niner-right'
The last time I would see an Indian registered aircraft, for a while…
The Concorde looks so sleek and compact compared to the A330!
INFLIGHT - THE O2 MASKS ARE DOWN!
A 180 degrees turn westwards as we climbed towards our 36000 feet altitude, but not without drama, unfortunately. The oxygen masks in seats 49H/J/K came down - a first for me seeing this happen. While the passengers took to this with a little bit of a surprise, they were assured nothing was wrong and that it was just the airplane’s age. Ah well, haha. A picture of this below.
In another first for me was a passenger receiving supplemental oxygen from above, to which the crew were very attentive and helpful with, therefore convincing me that British Airways did have the best crew members among the European airlines I had flown thus far, up there with KLM. However, there was the fear of a diversion in my head, or just heading back to London Heathrow….
Among the welcome announcements were the lack of a mention of wifi onboard. Oh well, my Snapstreaks were not going to die…. I was looking forward to continuing on with more sleeping on this flight, even if IFE was the more superior one of the refurbished cabin. I decided to look at the maps for the duration till lunch.
Service started with drinks 40 minutes in to the flight: I made the decision to mix my drinks, for good or for bad I suppose. It would be 2 cans of ginger ale, vodka, and wine which was offered as the ‘drink to go with lunch’. I like that BA offer this - when most of the airlines in the USA across the Atlantic is down to just wine and beer - however this extra drink to go with the meal was not offered for the LHR-DEL-LHR sectors. Interesting.
AN SUB-PAR LUNCH
Lunch was served within the next 35 minutes, starting with the special meals. I decided to try out the Hindu Meal for this one. Now it is interesting to note how different airlines interpret different special meals. Most Asian carriers (including the MEB3) mention that Hindu Meals are in fact non-vegetarian, however it does not contain beef or pork, with chicken, fish, lamb and eggs making an appearance. The European and American carriers however, usually use Asian Vegetarian and Hindu Meals interchangeably - both usually vegetarian (duh :) ) but in an Indian preparation.
I should’ve known better. Most, if not all western carriers really like the use of okra in these special meals, but more on this later. The meal started out with that same mysterious tomato/chickpea salad that was served on BA143 LHR-DEL: this gives me the impression that the salad does the rounds on flights to DEL/BOM/HYD/BLR/MAA. Some of the other Indian-related condiments included lime pickle, cucumber mint raita (a plain yogurt based side), and a mouth freshener. As is standard with most meals, bread roll & water.
Two layers of foil over the main dish - there was a rather depressing looking naan - small, and very rock hard. Pretty bad, I skipped this one.
In the main course was the western airlines’ favorite vegetable, okra, something that I’m not quite a fan of but this meal selection was my decision so I will not hate on it too much, the rice & daal was pretty nice which was the saving grace.
All in all, a lot of repeats from previous flights, but average at best. The regular options were the boring pasta or chicken deal, so I guess it was alright I got food that was an attempt at Indian food….
After lunch, I decided to take my one free pass to annoy the couple in the middle & aisle - requesting them to make way for me as I headed to the restroom. I did my quick cabin exploration at this time, too. The oxygen masks down:
Took a solid nap for the next couple of hours, the booze kicking in just fine & well. The new horrible Top Gear was enjoyable solely because of this reason.
However I did have to get up and head to the lavatory again and I felt bad asking the seat mates to move again, although they didn’t seem to mind too much…oh well. With long naps come the ability to survive a flight easily: we were just 1hr11min from landing, and I knew it would not be long before we heard from the front (top?) office and service.
Service was first: us passengers had the wonderful opportunity to select between a bag of chips, jaffa cake or a granola bar. Wow, quite the substantial selection - I was overwhelmed….not. Once again BA showing the shorter flights not getting a reasonable meal on the 2nd part of service: real bad cost cutting? Who knows.
Anyway, as we shipped up to Boston the First Officer came around with more information about our flight: cruising up at 38000 feet, we were to start our descent soon. While the storm had passed, some winds were still around, in excess of 40mph from the Northwest. Well, that’s an easy one for the B747 to negotiate, given that the winds were down the primary runways anyway! :) Temperature of -11C awaited us, factoring wind chill did make it a lot colder.
WHAT SURPRISES JFK HAVE IN STORE?
The most crucial bit of information however, was well received for the most part by all passengers: due to the after effects of said blizzard, taxiways and terminals were not operating at a 100% capacity yet, slowed by most all things freezing over. As a result, we were looking at a ground wait time of over 2 hours (so, more than a quarter of the flight time wow…), and parking at any of the terminals at New York JFK: yeah, a T7 arrival was not confirmed. Well, at least I was on my way to making it to New York, whatever happened next was anyone’s guess. No promises made, but the first officer did mention they’d try everything to make it as seamless for us as possible. Knowing what seamless really means when dealing with the USA, I knew I had to brace for anything but that….
Cabin on descent:
Descended down, nothing too major here as the crew set everything up for arrival. Everyone grew quiet as we awaited our fate arriving in to New York.
ARRIVAL - THE PARTY STARTS NOW…
Lined up with Runway 31R and a bit of a rough touchdown was executed at 1501 hours EST, after a flying time 7hr04min, and a delay of 41 minutes so far. T7 in the distance, but we're not heading there…
The situation looked bleak, however. One could barely distinguish between taxiways and snow, runways and snow, euro-white airplanes and snow mounds. Some ground vehicles helped move things around, but no amount was going to be enough to render a 100% recovery in a few hours. Taxiing off the runway, a left turn would take us to T7, but it was to the right for us, taxiway Whiskey. There were 2 British Airways Boeing 777-200ERs line astern in the distance, awaiting their fate. Maybe they had no passengers onboard…or maybe they did?
AND A MIRACLE?!
We taxied on Charlie, doing a quick loop, however we did not come to a standstill quite yet. Crossing over Runway 31R/13L, we got pretty close to T7. 1511 hours, 10min since landing. 'Ladies & gentlemen, today we are very fortunate and lucky to have come out of this relatively quickly. For those of you on the left will notice a tug waiting for us with open arms. We will go ahead and taxi towards it, and our standard procedure on a normal day is to shut down engines and have the tug pull us in towards the stand. We know you are eager to get off this airplane, however do bear with us these few minutes and we'll be done quite soon' said the Captain. I couldn't believe my luck - this was simply unbelievable. In the midst of one of the season's worst blizzards, this 1hr delay and just 10 minutes of taxiing felt like it was a dream come true, and if anything a change in fortunes for me who has only encountered bad luck.
Engines out at 1516 as some ground vehicles waited for us, as did a Virgin America/Alaska Airlines A320, the tug pulled us in to gate 10/11. Back where we started, amazing! Doors were opened, we officially arrived at 1522 hours with a delay of 1hr02min.
'Caution, traffic is some bigly plane on the taxiway waiting for a tug…'
Announcements reminding us to be on our best behavior at CBP because use of electronic devices would lead to confiscation, we were advised to be careful. A last look at the window - parked beside us was a British Airways B777-200ER, that had also arrived pretty late. It was a bittersweet feeling looking at the winglet, the massive wing, the two Rolls Royce RB211 engines. Was this my last flight on the Boeing 747? I do not know - but I sure will be actively searching for more! That being said, G-CIVI would stay on ground: usually the plane operating BA173 would head back as BA112, but with BA112 cancelled for 6th Jan, CIVI had no where to go, instead it would operate BA178 the following morning as the incoming BA183 was cancelled.
Heading out - World Traveller Plus
Thanking the crew, I headed out to T7's immigration, exclusively for British Airways.
I noticed something quite strange: with the many frequencies between LHR & JFK mean that it is largely O&D business folk, and not as many transit folk. So, with global entry lines filling up, and getting longer, there were barely 15 or 20 of us in the passports with visa line. As a result, took me 8min from disembarkation to immigration area, a minute to fill up the form, and a mere 7min in line to clearing immigration. And not many questions asked, at that. Was New York JFK T7's immigration in the aftermath of a storm my favorite experience so far? Oh you bet! 16min from door to baggage - not bad at all.
SLOW BAGGAGE DELIVERY…
The damming dampener however was the baggage claim. There is something quite claustrophobic about arrival halls (especially international) which make for a particularly grim scene in there (or I guess that’s just T7…), but baggage took forever to arrive. Given that half the airport was shutdown because of the aftermath of the blizzard, everything was slow, including the baggage trolleys. They slowly trickled down, my suitcase being one of the middle-last ones, looked beaten and cracked open, but structurally fine. Hey, at least it made it, I guess?
I left the terminal at 1626 hours, 1hr4min after docking at the gate. Took a Lyft to my AirBnB - the battle with jet lag was next.
London - LHR
New York - JFK
With that, my British Airways experience(s) come to an end. For this flight itself, the 1hr deal was just fine and no big deal. My next flight wasn’t until next morning. With the very limited service between these two top destinations with this situation (the busiest intl route in the world!), this 1hr delay was more like an on time flight. The crew were quite nice, taking care of whatever medical emergency that was with care. IFE was nice with the refurbished IFE, and appreciated the fact that there was no seat directly behind me so I did not get kicked this time. Food was, at best, OK.
And finally, to compare British Airways as a whole: I went in with very very low expectations which probably helped because I was quite happy with some aspect or the other at the end of the flights. The positives: largely on time without significant delays that were in their control, crew were (surprisingly!) quite nice, and British Airways with KLM remain the only airline where 100% of my flights with them have been on 747s, and both with Lufthansa where I have been in on quad-jets. The negatives: inconsistency. I know BA don’t intend on refurbishing half the 747 fleet, and Delhi with no longer see the 747s for a while but the difference was night and day on similarly aged airplanes. Food on LHR-DEL-LHR was amazing, but JFK-LHR-JFK was pretty bad. All in all, I do not think I will actively pursue to fly BA again given that the B747 opportunities was the sole reason of flying BA….
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